Game Review: God of War: Ascension (PS3)

Amazon, God of War Ascension_Rated M for Mature, Reviewed on PS3, God of War: Ascension at amazon.com

Kratos and I go back a long way.  The first game, on my beloved PS2, was a revelation.  The sheer power and brutality hit you like a brick, but it was the strength of the emotional narrative that kept me interested and brought me back.  The second game sent the PS2 out in style and the third dragged the still fledgling PS3 to new heights.  The two PSP entries may not have had quite the same impact but they still stand as some of the most impressive gameplay on Sony’s black slab.

I jumped at the PS3 reissue of the PS2 games and the third game.  I was also good at them: Platinum trophies in all three.  I completed all the games on hardest difficulty after multiple complete play-throughs and even did the ridiculously annoying “Challenge of the Gods”.  So what did I think of this, the second PS3 offering and sixth game in Kratos’ seemingly never-ending saga?

Honestly?  Meh.

The game looks just as good, if not better, than the stunning third installment.  The God of War games have always set a high visual bar and this one is no different.  The controls are – with a few exceptions – just as elegant and polished.  The series has always set a standard here as well.  The set pieces are just as impressive in both scale and complexity (even if they do lack some of the soul).  The new time-based puzzles are light but clever and visually impressive.

The biggest overall issue of the gameplay is the punishing, hugely variable difficulty curve.  I start God of War games on the hardest difficulty normally but I was forced within the first hour to drop to an easier level out of sheer frustration.  Camera angles often place you in tremendously unfavorable positions seemingly more interested in wandering lovingly over the landscape.  Blocking has become much more unintuitive (most likely to balance the new multiplayer but I’m not sure why single player should suffer) and is absolutely essential to maintain health over the ridiculously long battles.  Enemies have enormous amounts of health and respawn incessantly.

More subtly the story just failed to grab me.  As Kratos spent the original trilogy annihilating the entire Greek pantheon the developers had to dig past the big names for this prequel.  Taking place directly after the slaughter of Kratos’s family (a watershed event that this game really should have culminated in) the story begins with Kratos imprisoned by the Fates for breaking his oath to Ares.  So Kratos, again, has to rampage through a throng of immortals.

As the story of the original God of War began, breathtakingly, with a guilt-ridden Kratos attempting suicide over the death of his family this epic struggle feels out-of-place.  The particulars of the story are rather esoteric and difficult to follow but most importantly fail to create any emotional bonds.  You move from area to area, fight over-powered enemies for no real reason then move on to another area for no real reason.

As a side note while I’ve heard good things about multiplayer it simply isn’t something that interests me.  I’m a middle-aged father of two with a busy career and a stack of unplayed games.  I’ve simply no time for games (or game modes) that never end.

If you’re only real interest is in the combat and fighting of these games then there may not truly be anything to complain about.  The new systems are challenging and rich (even if they are still riddled with quicktime events).  Those invested in the story of Kratos will find this installment lacking the depth and heart of the previous entries but that’s only in comparison to the others in the series.  It may seem trite to say but even a bad God of War game is still pretty good even if this one just never grabbed me.

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